AFTERLIFE TRACKS

 

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BOOK INFORMATION

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, September 2015

ISBN 1514611503 / ISBN-13 13:9781514611500, 177 pages, 6″x9″, Hardcover, $ 10.99; Kindle, $4.99

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015910340

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TESTIMONIALS

“His philosophy of life comes through very strongly and makes the book very appealing. So much so, as a matter of fact, that I would recommend many in his profession read this to see what it’s all about.”– Professor Donald Cassiday of North Park University in Chicago

“It’s a wonderful book, which tells excellent stories, as well as conveying strong spiritual meaning, in the very best sense.”–Professor Fred Shafer of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.“

“I found the  book engaging. The author has a knack for creating vivid indelible portraits.”–Francisco Aragon, Director of Letras Latinas of the University of Notre Dame.

“I am so incredibly touched. I am honored that you wrote so accurately and lovely about my loved ones. Thank u for bringing to life stories that had to be told. Love u forever.” –Jennifer A. Milano.

 

BOOK DESCRIPTION

AFTERLIFE TRACKS: Glimpses of the Occult

Can Science Prove There Is an Afterlife? 

A patient’s near-death experience and a series of eerie events spanning 13 years send a doctor on a search for scientific proof of the Afterlife.

In 1990, 29-year-old Jessica LaCoppola suffers a severe car accident and dies in the ICU at a hospital in Chicago.
Five years later on an expressway in Chicago, a semi-trailer truck lashes against a car driven by 53-year-old Connie Calderone. She goes into a deep coma. In her unconscious state, Connie has a near-death-experience. During this vision, she meets Jessica LaCoppola, whom she barely knows and happens to be the deceased daughter of her best friend.
Jessica LaCoppola and Connie Calderone have a conversation. Jessica tells Connie that she, Jessica, is getting everything ready to receive one of her own close relatives who will soon die. Connie eventually recovers. Six months later, the prophecy comes true. One of Jessica’s perfectly healthy relatives dies.

All three are patients of Dr. Louis Villalba, a professor of neurology, who narrates this true story in “Afterlife Tracks.” All the protagonists of the story, members of two Italian-American families, file through his office for more than a decade, unveiling their lives as he juggles the roles of healer and friend. Villalba describes his own paranormal experience at the wake in front of the corpse. “I felt as if a new dimension had opened its door for me to peek into,” Villalba writes. “Apparently, the window to this other world was there, displayed before everyone’s eyes at the chapel.” “For the first time in a near-death experience, a prophecy was issued that came to pass,” he adds. “This is why I decided to study these events, using my knowledge of the workings of the normal and abnormal brain.”
His findings will comfort the dying and those who have lost loved ones.

The last third of the book relates “Glimpses of the Occult.” This section contains fourteen short paranormal stories based on the supernatural incidents that Villalba encountered throughout his 40-year neurological career. The following accounts are among them: a daughter sees silvery rays shoot up from her mother’s body at the very moment of her mother’s death; images of a corpse in the bathroom of an apartment besieged a new occupant; a healthy young woman announces her own death several months in advance; a woman notices a halo around her uncle’s head and knows of his imminent departure; a moribund lady greets her late relatives that stand at her bedside before her final journey; a comatose man briefly regained full alertness to bid goodbye to his loved ones and sink again into unconsciousness and death; a fortuneteller foretells a husband’s demise on an upcoming trip; an amulet causes havoc at an Ouija session, the participants fleeing out of the room in panic.

The book has won praise from reviewers:
“His philosophy of life comes through very strongly and makes the book very appealing. So much so, as a matter of fact, that I would recommend many in his profession read this to see what it’s all about.” — Professor Donald Cassiday of North Park University in Chicago
“It’s a wonderful book, which tells excellent stories, as well as conveying strong spiritual meaning, in the very best sense.” –Professor Fred Shafer of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL

 

 

 

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 SAMPLE CHAPTER

 

                                                                                One 

                                                                        PREFACE

 

            I wrote the first draft of these real stories in 2001, and it has since undergone countless revisions and quite a few vicissitudes. A most auspicious one occurred several years ago when I handed a copy of the manuscript to a friend who showed great interest in the subject.  A few months later, I received it back in the mail with a good number of torn-up pages and tire tracks all over the rest of them.  It turned out that my friend had taken it along on one of his 500-mile trips to Lincoln, Nebraska, and inadvertently misplaced it. A thoughtful jogger found it lying on the side of a road, read what he could, liked it, and after digging up my address from the dusty papers, mailed it back to me. It arrived with an attached complimentary note which ended with a gracious “Godspeed.”

 

 

 

 

                                                                                        Two

                                                                    A PENDING MATTER

 

 

            Like most scientists, I favored the notion that life was an accident of nature. That from its inception, it developed like a jungle without a gardener’s caring hand over billions of years, and that our life ended with our death. I always believed in God. Yet I was torn between the doubt as to whether God paid attention to us and the belief we were merely a fluke of creation destined to disappear. Brought up Catholic, I was not religious enough to accept the idea of life after death. It struck me as a beautiful tale to sweeten our final days. But the story I am about to narrate made me wonder. It began two and a half decades ago and unfolded over all these years. My neurology practice has been so busy that I have postponed the report of its account several times. Now I feel compelled to put an end to my procrastination and unveil the information I have kept for so long. Rather than blurring its accuracy, the passage of time has enhanced its meaning and relevance. So here it goes.       

 

 

                                                                                              Three                      

                                                                A TRIP THROUGH THE JUNGLE

                                   

 

“Your time has not come, my daughter. You must return.” His voice brimmed with love and tenderness.

            “Dad, please, let me stay.” She sensed great peace and happiness in this place.

“No, I don’t want you to stay,” he insisted. “You must return. Please, go.”

            His words hurt her deeply. Her love for her late father was great, and his presence gave her a great feeling of joy and safety.  Connie Calderone had just sunk into a deep coma and had suddenly found herself in an enormous dark tunnel with an intense light at its end.  Inside the tube, she thought it was too soon for her to leave this world. Her work was incomplete. She had to help her grandchildren grow into influential politicians.  Upon reaching her destination, a lovely meadow filled with yellow and white flowers burst into view. Soft music of extraordinary beauty framed the ambiance. She then saw about twenty people who approached her as if they were floating, her father and mother, both dead for many years, her sister Mariana, her brother Vito, and her uncle Santo, all of them deceased.

Only her father talked to Connie. He spoke in English, a language that had been foreign to him when he was alive. He introduced her to her maternal grandmother whom she had never met in life.

“This is your grandmother Marietta.”

Connie also saw her paternal grandmother Mariana and remembered her with some resentment. The old woman had never given her a penny to buy candy. Unable to recognize several people in the group, she thought they were dead relatives she had never met before. She did not see anyone who was alive. Connie saw her parents and everyone else from the neck up. The field of flowers hid their figures, and their appearances bore the same aspects they had at the ages when they had died. They looked at her affectionately but without smiling.

“In Sicily people hardly smile,” Connie told me.

Connie looked to one side and saw Jessica La Coppola in a room without doors that seemed illuminated by the sun. She looked busy and preoccupied, wore an ankle-length white gown, and her light brown hair hung loose.  Her presence inspired a feeling of tranquility. Connie spoke to her,

“My parents don’t want me to stay. What are you doing, Jessica?”

“I have no time for you,” Jessica said, looking at her calmly. “I’m preparing everything for someone who’s coming.”

 After Connie had heard these words, she found herself in a dark room, thinking of her grandchildren. Her recollections ended there. The message struck her. Why did Jessica inform her she was waiting for someone?  Who was about to die?

Connie was surprised to see Jessica La Coppola. She had barely known her. Her tragic death occurred shortly after Connie had befriended the mother, Rose Marie La Coppola, five years earlier. She had only conversed with Jessica on a few occasions.

I had known Jessica well. Her mother had been my patient for ten years and had referred her to me six years ago. Coincidentally, Jessica was then working for an answering service company that received phone calls from my neurological center on weekends and after office hours. I had talked to her on the phone on numerous occasions. Jessica first came to my office as a patient on January 9, 1989, a frigid day of the Chicago winter. My reception area was full, but after waiting for a while, she walked into my office with the confidence and ease of those women who are aware of their beauty. Her tall height and corpulence accentuated the vigor and gracefulness of her swinging hips. She smiled at me.  Her lips opened wide to disclose perfect teeth. Her brown eyes sparkled, and her entire face bloomed from her bobbed hair to her nectarine-like chin. She sat down in front of me and became aware I was observing her. Her blushing crimsoned her pink cheeks.  She ran her long red nails over her head, caressing her light brown hair enlivened with blond strands.  Then, as if mounted on a coil spring, her head jerked back and relaxed. I was before an Italian- American woman to the core, so personable that anyone would have overlooked any imperfection she might have had.  I opened the conversation.

“Your mother already told me about you.”

“Did she tell you I’m the one who wakes you up in the middle of the night?” She chuckled.

“Yes, I recognize your voice.”

“I hope she didn’t tell you how much I hate going to doctors. Nothing personal, but I hear patients crying on the phone all the time. I don’t want to be one of them.”

            She described the attacks of incapacitating headaches associated with blinding lights, pounding in her temples, and nausea that culminated in terrible vomiting. The severity of her symptoms sent her to bed where the headache subsided in total darkness and absolute silence. Jessica had a menstrual migraine. I prescribed medications and recommended a special diet. She complied with the regimen except for the avoidance of chocolate, a delicacy too tempting to resist.

Jessica’s sensitivity to her surroundings made her prone to headaches. An incident proved that she possessed a sixth sense. Her young sister Tina buddied up with a boy on the sly. Her grandfather found out and went berserk. He gathered a few of her clothes, put them in a bag, handed them to her, and expelled her from home as he screamed at the top of his lungs,

“You’re going to get pregnant at fifteen. I don’t want you in my house.”

Dejected, she went to a girlfriend’s home, took all the pills she found in a medicine cabinet, and then walked a few miles to her boyfriend’s. It was raining and the water kept her awake until her arrival.  A few minutes later she blacked out, lapsed into a coma, and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Rose Marie was at work when she learned of her daughter’s condition and her admission to the intensive care unit.  The vision of Tina lying unconscious surrounded by machines made her feel like a sand statue about to crumble into a thousand pieces. At the time of this ordeal, Jessica was away on a trip to California, but she phoned home after sensing that something had gone awry with her sister. Her first question to Rose Marie was,

“Mom, how’s Tina? I feel uneasy … as if something bad has happened to her.”

            Tina’s problems ended six years later when she moved in with her boyfriend, married him, and eventually had two children, Vanessa and Johnny.  Jessica was still at home, and Rose Marie seized the opportunity to strengthen her relationship with her. A friendship without secrets blossomed. Mother and daughter went to dinner, to the movies, and shopping. Jessica’s joyful disposition became a magnet for all her relatives. With a smile on her face and all details set to perfection, she organized Easter and Christmas celebrations where everyone got together.  In 1983, Jessica fell in love, went to live with her boyfriend Richard, and after two years, she gave birth to Jennifer. Things did not go well, and the couple split when the little girl turned two years of age. Rose Marie relocated her household to a bigger home at the corner of Foster and Cumberland in Chicago and accommodated her daughter and granddaughter under her roof.

            In the summer of 1988, a terrible accident occurred at the new house.  Johnny’s clothes caught fire as he played on the porch with a box of matches stuffed in his pocket. He was screaming when Jessica rushed out of the house and saw his upper body aflame. Removing her shirt, she opened it like a cape, hurled herself on top of him, and embraced him and the blaze.  At the emergency room, her hands had to be separated from her nephew’s back with a scalpel. She was discharged and sent home, but the child remained hospitalized for several weeks.

Since this incident, Jessica’s life had been quiet, and her headaches had responded well to treatment. On January 25, 1990, she and her boyfriend Bobby traveled to Cancun, Mexico. He was the typical worker who shed all his 9-to-5 formalities during vacations and turned into an everything-goes seeker of fun times.  On the plane the couple met Tony, a fellow passenger was also a guest at their hotel. The three planned to visit the Mayan cities of Tulum and Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula. The next morning, they set out on their journey along lonely interminable roads in the heart of a jungle.  I knew these routes.  A couple of years earlier I had driven on them and found the blacktop completely worn out and replaced by cracks and sand. The paths were immersed in a world of green tropical trees whose stubborn advance had torn the asphalt apart and covered the entire road with shadows. In the late afternoon, the burning sun melted what little tar still remained on the roads, and the strong aroma permeated the air.

Jessica occupied the back seat, Tony drove, and Bobby sat next to him. Their rental jeep sped through a long stretch of the road when suddenly a large pothole appeared in an area full of puddles from a tropical rain.  Tony attempted to avoid it, but the jeep slid, the tires squealed, and the vehicle swerved. He held tight to the steering wheel to keep it upright but failed. The car rolled over twice and plunged off the road. Upon impact, the hood and dashboard thrust into the interior of the vehicle, ripping the back seats out. The jeep lay squeezed among the trees which had served as a brake to its flight. The clash had sounded like a grenade, and the car looked as if it had been crushed in a compactor. The collision happened in a nameless place in the middle of nowhere. An inhospitable silence loomed over the victims, which was only broken by the occasional shrill cries of tropical birds.  The night would soon fall upon them.

            Bobby described the accident site. He had woken up on a lonely road flooded with shadows. A burning smell hovered over him. The embedded jeep lay tilted backward in the thicket. The tires had scooped off swaths of gravel and asphalt.  Their tracks snaked toward the bushes on the side of the road and ended under the wreckage. Two large tree branches had fallen and missed Jessica by a few inches. The back of her head rested on her neck, her eyes were closed, and her hair was in disarray.  Blood covered her forehead, and protruding steel crushed her chest between the front and the back seats.  She uttered no sounds and showed no movements in her upper chest or mouth. Fear paralyzed him and turned his mind blank. Tony lay next to him. His friend was moaning and his eyes gazed into emptiness. Their shirts and shorts were torn and caked with blood and soot-like dust. There was bleeding in their faces, their arms, and their legs. Bobby had no idea what had happened, and for a moment, he thought he might be asleep, going through a nightmare.  A large bird ruffled the feathers and shook the brush.  The noise roused him.  From the ground, still unable to move, he called Jessica. She did not respond or stir.  Beyond the remains of the jeep, he saw the long empty road that the jungle swallowed in the distance.  On either side, myriads of trees crammed above the never-ending undergrowth. There was no sign of civilization.  The dust had settled, but the burning odor lingered. Bobby realized the accident had spared his life and his male companion’s.   It was an irritating smell that reminded him of that of cremated dead bodies. He raised his eyes to heavens. He did not remember the last time he had gone to church. Yet at this very moment he thought of God.  He had forgotten all the prayers he had learned as a child. He just asked God to save them and not to let Jessica die. The sunlight ricocheted on the green leaves of the tallest trees, and the breeze swung the long fronds of the palm trees.  He then looked ahead and heard Tony,

            “C’mon, stand up, let get Jessica out of there.”                                                  When Bobby and Tony approached her, Jessica was awake but could not escape from the compression that was suffocating her.  The doors did not budge. Tony pushed her from one side, and Bobby pulled from the other, but the twisted steel bars had pinned her body in, immobilizing her. Jessica cheered them and encouraged them as she fought for air and felt her death nearby. A few minutes later, she lost consciousness again.                                                                                    After a long wait, a rusty gray pickup truck approached. Several peasants stepped out of the vehicle. After much effort, they freed and moved Jessica to the side of the road where she remained conscious for a while.  The driver continued on his way and reached one of the few police checkpoints that interrupted the road from time to time. There was no ambulance available. The officers sent a station wagon that took almost two hours to reach the accident site.  Two paramedics handled Jessica. Her injuries and corpulence challenged their skills to the limit. After a long struggle, they laid her on a stretcher and hauled her into the small station wagon. Jessica’s legs stuck out beyond the rear bumper as the improvised ambulance sped away.

The night set in. The station wagon raced over the never-ending road as Jessica listened to the silence of the immense jungle that was swallowing her brief life. At last she arrived at a small clinic located on the outskirts of Cancun. The ugly appearance of the building contrasted with the luxurious hotels that lined the endless white-sand beaches of turquoise-blue waters. At the clinic, Dr. Hernandez cleaned her wounds and inserted a saline solution into one of her veins to prevent low blood pressure. X-rays revealed severe fractures of the thoracic vertebrae and ribs. The bone fragments had behaved like knives, lacerating her lungs and impeding her breathing. Her respiration grew laborious and painful.

            I received an urgent call from Rose Marie.

“My daughter Jessica had a terrible accident in Mexico.”

She sounded calm, yet I perceived her inner struggle. It reminded me of the relative tranquility in the core of a tornado.

“Doctor, could you please call her physician in Mexico?”

“Is she okay?”

“I don’t really know, but it was a bad accident. I think she’s very sick. I’m afraid she is going to die.”

          After several calls, I spoke with Dr. Hernandez, who explained her condition,

“Jessica has multiple severe traumas. The primary damage is in the thorax … lung contusion.”

“Is she going to make it?”

“I don’t know. She has no chance of survival if she stays in this place. We are not equipped to treat patients with multiple severe injuries.”

She remained conscious, but her body hovered between life and death.  The physician tried to transfer her to a trauma center, but lacking insurance and money, she was refused admission.

Rose Marie reached Jessica on the phone.

 “Mom, I’m very sick. I know I’m going to die. Please, take care of Jennifer.”

Rose Marie instilled hope in her daughter and lifted her spirits, reining in her own emotions so as not to raise more fear in her. Right after the conversation, she phoned me. Her cold voice dug into my ear. Her daughter’s words had hit her hard, slowed her speech, and stolen nuances and inflections from her voice. She faked her composure because there was no time to cry. I knew that she needed to hear some encouraging words from me, so I assured her that her daughter would get the necessary care.

I contacted the American Embassy in Mexico where several employees and layers of bureaucracy stood before me.  After a while, one of the ambassador’s chief advisors came to the phone.  I explained the dire situation: Jessica would die if she were not transferred to a major hospital with an adequate intensive care unit. I conveyed to him her family’s wish that she be brought to Chicago by air ambulance. I agreed to find the appropriate place for her as soon as his office notified me of his consent. Paralleling my efforts, Rose Marie knew whom to call: Connie, an Italian divorcee who had been her coworker for a decade and more recently a close friend. Their families had shared dinners and games on weekends. Jessica had seldom joined them. Connie was politically savvy and had advanced ahead of her co-workers, among them Rose Marie. She held the positions of Chief of the Parking Enforcement Division of the Chicago Police and Precinct Captain of her district. Her contribution to local electoral campaigns was decisive in reelecting nominees and defeating opponents. She enjoyed clout and ready access to the city government. Alderman Mel was moved by the seriousness of the situation and phoned Congressman Lipinski in Washington. He promptly answered his call and assured him of his commitment to prevent a young constituent’s death in a small hospital on foreign soil because of lack of money.

Rose Marie called me with the approval.

“An air ambulance has been sent to pick her up in Cancun,” she sighed, struggling to add another sentence. “I pray to God that He saves her life. But if He calls her, I want to be at her bedside.”

When Rose Marie gave me the good news, I thought the ambassador had authorized it. I did not know that Connie had pulled the strings through her political connections in Chicago. At the time, there were several private air ambulance services that handled this type of transfer at a cost of several thousand dollars. Uncle Sam would pay the expensive fee. I was a consultant at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, so I was able to schedule Jessica’s admission. This institution was one of the biggest inpatient facilities in the United States and had been caring for thousands of dispossessed patients since the 1800’s.  Its façade boasted carved out cornices and enormous columns reminiscent of those of ancient Roman buildings. Inside, the place also seemed to belong to times of yore but had an extensive state-of-the-art intensive care unit.

An ambulance picked Jessica up at the small hospital in Cancun.  Bobby noted the contrast between the seriousness of the situation and the cheerfulness of the sunny day. The weather was warm and humid, and the palm trees stood high with their leaves totally still under a light-blue sky graced by a few scattered white clouds.  Two paramedics placed a mask on her face and connected it to an oxygen tank.  She felt extreme pain, but no narcotics could be administered for fear her breathing would cease. Throughout the short trip to the airport, bumps on the road set off torturing jolts that rippled throughout her entire body.   At Cancun International Airport, the air ambulance took off for the 1500-mile four-hour flight to Chicago. Her pain raged on, and death hovered over her like a snake ready to strike its prey.  Against all odds, she made it to O’Hare Airport where everything was ready for her transfer to a helicopter ambulance.  The freezing cold had turned the airport grounds slippery even though great piles of snow had been cleared from runways and tarmacs. The flight from the airport to Cook County Hospital lasted an eternity. Her breathing worsened and her struggle to stay awake intensified. When the helicopter landed in front of the hospital, its rotor blades blew the snow and debris around the wasteland located across the street, which functioned as a heliport. The paramedics hauled her out of the aircraft and transported her to the intensive care unit. A nurse phoned to notify me of her admission. Her mother, Rose Marie, saw her sitting up in bed and noticed her face reflecting the severity of the pain. She could not breathe, and her fatigued muscles struggled to flutter her chest and belly. Rose Marie kissed her and embraced her. The daughter’s face lit up with a smile as tears swelled in her eyes. The mother restrained her emotions and said,

“I love you.”

Jessica replied with the sketch of a smile.

“How are you?”

            The daughter only shook her head from side to side in a gesture of impotence and then whispered,

            “They…are…taking…me…for…tests…I’ll…talk…to…you…later.”

Her breathing difficulties worsened, and she was placed on a respirator. Jessica fought the machine, so an anesthesiologist paralyzed all her muscles with a medication similar to curare—the substance Indians smeared on their arrows to immobilize their prey. Jessica could hear everything but could not respond.

I rushed to the intensive care unit after Jessica had undergone radiological tests. As soon as I walked out of an elevator, I heard the sounds of all the life-supporting machines. Now and then the hubbub was interrupted by an eerie silence.  The hall was deserted. My steps resonated over my prayers that I found her alive and in a better condition than I anticipated.  A door opened into a place in semi-darkness that teemed with beds and machines. Nurses and doctors darted from one side to another trying to save the lives of moribund patients. The lamp above a bed illuminated a bedridden forty-odd-year-old man. He looked at me with eyes that seemed to come out of their orbits as if the fear of imminent death had just assaulted him.

I went into the area where Jessica lay in bed.  Gauze taped to her face covered her eyes, and several tubes hung from her body—one from her nose to the stomach, a second from her mouth to the respirator, a third and a fourth from her lung cavities into sealed containers filled with hemorrhagic fluid, and a fifth from a bag with intravenous fluids and antibiotics to the cava vein in her chest. A nurse suctioned her throat secretions while a doctor checked her breathing. Despite her climbing fever, her face was pale except for the areas of bruises, her hands were cold, and her nails long and blue.  The doctor looked at me and grimaced to express the patient’s terrible prognosis.  The young physician left. A black nurse jostled between me, medical equipment, and the partition wall to readjust the intravenous infusion. I listened to the implacable hissing of the respirator and smelled the cloud of disinfectant hovering over the room. A lamp behind me projected my shadow over the white blanket covering Jessica. It reminded me of the Acts of Apostles, how Peter’s shadow had healed the sick. I wished I had the same kind of power.

I talked to Jessica and asked her not to give up. I thought she could still listen to me. I told her she would recover if she could fend off death for twenty-four hours. It was a wishful lie. The miracle never occurred and hour by hour her life faded away. She died the next morning, leaving her four-year-old daughter Jennifer and a desolate family.

During the terrible hours that followed Jessica’s death, Rose Marie showed her forbearance and attended to her loved ones’ needs. At home, she found Jennifer playing with a doll house.  The child lifted up her eyes. Her smile froze in a grimace of uncertainty. Her innocent mind had captured the rictus of pain hidden under the surface of her grandmother’s countenance.  Rose Marie hugged her and said,

“Your mom is now with God.”

 The child did not react for a second and then cried. She had no concept of what had happened. She thought that her mother would reappear at any moment as in a movie. For several weeks, she kept asking about her, but the incident failed to make any permanent memory imprint on her young brain.  As for Rose Marie, whenever she looked at the child, she thought of Jessica’s last words, her wish to talk with her after her tests had been completed. Her hope had never come true and left Rose Marie wondering what her daughter had intended to tell her.  These few words were a precious loss. Yet Rose Marie did not know this time would not be the last she heard from Jessica.